black music, contemporary art, performance art

David Blandy, From the Underground (2001)

September 3, 2012

This film by David Blandy is to my mind haunted by the suspicion culture changes nothing. You can sing all the songs in the world, but you may never be a different cast of singer.

From the Underground is nevertheless a well rehearsed feat, a perfect lip-synced rendition of one of the Wu Tang Clan’s most hectic and profane tracks.

And it is an act of daring. Most of us would shrink from the prospect of filming a journey into the depths of the underground, all the while performing an aggravated rap.

But Blandy is deep in character and maybe this is what carries him through the potential risk of humiliation which seems to come with all performance art.

Had he filmed this in his bedroom or with less conviction, it would not be half so interesting. You get instead a clash between its North London setting and its soundtrack from a US ghetto.

And of course, the artist is white, the music black. You might say Blandy is very white, in a nerdish sort of way. While gangsta rappers are, for better or worse, another racial stereotype.

But the artist’s youth is important too. This is a very early work by a performer and filmmaker whose latest work Anjin is a many layered and more deeply resounding piece of anime.

In the intervening years Blandy has fully assumed a wide range of personae. Yet the man who introduced his own show on Friday appeared to be neither rapper, nor samurai.

It brings us back to the suspicion that what we love leaves us just as we were. Our occupation of other people’s creative spaces is, sadly, temporary. I was reminded of this:

“You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything,” writes Italo Calvino in his remarkable book If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.

“There are plenty . . . who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store, But not you.”

From the Underground can be seen at Blandy’s solo show Odysseys, at Phoenix(as part of the Brighton Digital Festival) until 23 September 2012. See gallery website for more details.

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